Fla. Dems hope to boost '08 nominee despite infighting

Florida Democrats, "bruised and battered" by years of Republican rule and some nasty infighting, confidently promised Saturday to reunite after the Jan. 29 presidential primary and deliver 27 crucial electoral votes to their national ticket.

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said he and Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., hope for an amicable resolution of their federal lawsuit against the Democratic National Committee — which has stripped Florida of 210 delegate votes for the party's national nominating convention.

Nelson said Iowa is set to announce that it will move its caucuses to Jan. 3, and that Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean should relent on the penalties now imposed on states defying rules of both parties requiring them to wait until Feb. 5 to choose delegates.

State party chairwoman Karen Thurman predicted that the party's nominee, who will be unofficial but probably known by mid-February, will unite the party in Denver next summer by seating all delegates. She and Nelson also said Democratic candidates will be back in Florida before Jan. 29, despite the "four-state pledge" to let Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada go first.

But meanwhile, many of the 3,000 delegates and guests at the Florida State Convention said chances of carrying the state next year are being hurt by the public spat between Florida and the four states that have Dean's support for their early caucuses and primaries.

Several wore lapel buttons that said "No Votes, No Money," referring to candidates raising money in Florida but not meeting ordinary voters at campaign events, and depicting tiny Iowa and New Hampshire next to a big map of Florida, inscribed "Size Does Matter."

"I'm scared of it," delegate Anne Frame of Rockledge said. "It gives people who are disgusted with the system more reason to be disgusted."

In his speech to the convention, Nelson said the DNC edict violates voting rights of Florida Democrats. He also said it was wrong for candidates to raise money in the state while refusing to publicly campaign at rallies or conventions. In Florida, scene of the 36-day court battle over counting ballots in the 2000 presidential election, Nelson said his party is making a tactical mistake in refusing to recognize delegates.

"Our lawsuit is about the right of every American to have access to the ballot box, and to have that vote count — and to have it count as intended. We believe there's no reason that anyone can excuse the denial of this fundamental right," he said.

Hastings, the convention co-chairman, joined Thurman in predicting that the party will reunite and support its national ticket. He said health care, the Iraq war, education and the economy will matter more a year from now than the current internal fight over Florida's primary date and delegates.

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., seemed to have the most visible support among delegates — judging by lapel stickers, t-shirts and campaign signs. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., also had a vocal cheering section at the convention.

Thurman said any of the Democrats can beat any of the eight GOP contenders who held a nationally televised debate just a few miles away at a Republican convention last weekend.

"Not even in 'the place where dreams come true' will Republicans carry the state of Florida with that cast of characters," Thurman said, citing the Walt Disney World motto. "The facts are simple. If you want kids to have health care, if you support stem cell research, if you want to end the war in Iraq, we've got to put a Democrat in the White House."

Although Florida went Republican in the last two presidential races — by 537 votes in 2000 and by some 300,000 in 2004 — former U.S. Rep. Jim Davis of Tampa said it is not a "red" Republican stronghold but a "blue" Democratic-leaning state for 2008. The 2006 Democratic nominee for governor said candidates boycotting Florida now will change their minds.

"They will be here," said Davis. "We are a purple state — we are bruised and battered — but we're at our best when our backs are up against the wall. We will come together when the nominee is selected."